Arctic geese, including greater white-fronted geese, lesser snow geese, and Ross’s geese, populations
have grown and shifted their winter distribution east from their historical
wintering range in the Central Flyway. Consequently, competition among
waterfowl species for food resources has increased in the Mississippi Alluvial
Valley (MAV). University of Arkansas researchers Ethan Massey and Doug Osborne
developed a project to study changes in diet and body condition over time of Arctic
geese wintering in the MAV. To do so, they collected geese foraging in rice,
soybean, and corn fields from October – February 2015-16 and 2016-17. In
general, Artic geese foraged on waste grain in rice and corn fields during
early winter. They switch to grasses in soybean fields during late winter.
Geese feeding on waste grain gained weight from October to November.
After shifting to grass, the geese lost weight, having the lowest fat stores in
February. These changes in body condition over time demonstrate the importance
of high-energy foods like waste grain for building fat reserves in wintering
geese. The decline in fat as winter progresses may be driven by numerous
factors, including food depletion, changes in goose physiology, or the effects
of hunting pressure in the rice growing regions of Arkansas. This study will aid
managers and conservation planners in understanding how this expanding winter
goose population is impacting the availability of foraging resources in the MAV.